They were all so happy they could hardly speak at first. They just looked with shining eyes at those lovely Christmas presents. But Laura was happiest of all. Laura had a rag doll.
She was a beautiful doll. She had a face of white cloth with black button eyes. A black pencil had made her eyebrows, and her cheeks and her mouth were red with the ink made from pokeberries. Her hair was black yarn that had been knit and raveled, so that it was curly.
She had little red flannel stockings and little black cloth gaiters for shoes, and her dress was pretty pink and blue calico.
She was so beautiful that Laura could not say a word. She just held her tight and forgot everything else. She did not know that everyone was looking at her, till Aunt Eliza said:
“Did you ever see such big eyes!”
Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 4 Christmas
In Little House in the Big Woods, when Laura receives her rag doll Charlotte, it is mentioned that her doll’s cheeks and mouth were red, and it was from pokeberries which made a red ink, or dye. Later, in On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura mentions the dye running from Charlotte’s red yarn mouth.
But pokeberries are not a commonly known berry since they are not edible and primarily used for dyeing.
Pokeberries are the fruit of the pokeweed plant, which is native to North America. The berries are usually dark purple or black in color, and are often used to make a natural dye for fabrics. The dye is made by boiling the berries in water and then using the liquid to dye the fabric. The dye can produce a range of colors from deep purple to black, depending on the type of fabric and the mordant used.
Historically, pokeberry dye was used by Native Americans and early settlers to dye fabrics, baskets, and other items, and was likely well known to Caroline and other family and friends of the era. The dye was also used to color yarn and thread for weaving, and to dye feathers for use in traditional headdresses in the Native American community.
Nowadays, pokeberries are still used to make dye, but mainly by artisans and craftspeople, and the use of pokeberries for dyeing is not widespread. However, with many people practicing natural dying techniques, which has seen a resurgence in recent years, it has slowly become a more popular use for red dye.
It’s worth mentioning that all parts of the pokeweed plant are poisonous if ingested, so care must be taken when handling or using pokeberries for dyeing.